Sunday, 19 September 2010

Religious conservatives and religious conservatives

As usual, I have left it until the Pope has left Britain to put forward my opinions on the matter. Let it be known that I have no respect whatsoever for the Catholic Church as an institution. I regard its record of child abuse and other abuses of power as a disgrace, its insistence on celibacy of priests dangerous in the extreme (and, like face-covering and other "Islamic" practices, wholly unjustified by history or the original religious texts), its refusal to accept the ordination of women an equally extreme example of what happens when the defence of a narrow set of societal norms, which have little in themselves to do with religion, against the rest of the world becomes far more important than religious belief itself (again, the parallels with Islam should be clear to everyone outside the worst newspapers in the world). It might well have been different had its hierarchy not run in fear from the full connotations of Vatican II almost as soon as they had been opened, but as the Catholic Church stands I can barely think of a good word to say for it.

So why do I feel slightly uneasy at the tone of some (only some) of the dismissals of the Pope from people I usually respect and agree with? Not because I disagree with them as such, but because I am worried that, out of a wholly understandable desire not to overlap with the kneejerk bigots of the right-wing press, certain people who regard themselves as critics of religious conservatism do not criticise it in all its forms (the only legitimate position on the matter) but are misguidedly soft on religious conservatism when it is practised by people whose religions were imported from the Middle East rather more recently than Christianity, and are willing to play games with people who, if they had power outside their current fiefdoms (which I think is highly unlikely, but not necessarily impossible), would be at least as hostile to the cultural norms of left-liberalism as the Catholic Church, probably more so, and are steeped in a tradition that is much harder to reconcile with left-liberalism than mainstream Christianity, which for all its differences on moral issues shares a more similar grounding in literature and thought than many on both sides are willing to admit.

Oh, of course, I know how natural it feels to want to defend anything the Mail bashes - a letter in that paper at least 13 years ago is the sole reason why I like the Weymouth & Portland council offices infinitely more than they deserve. I know how much they poison everything. I wish the mainstream right in the UK had not been so damaged by its Thatcherite realignment towards virtually uncritical support of Israel, which leaves religious conservatives condemning other religious conservatives - destroying what might otherwise be a very real and natural alliance, if only of convenience - and puts left-liberals in an almost impossible position. And of course, the Express's "MUSLIM PLOT TO KILL POPE" headline was a disgrace to journalism even by their standards. I just feel that it should be conceded that a certain number of people will always want the security and certainty of religious conservatism (note: not wanting it yourself, just recognising the human condition) and that, where rival forms of backwardness are concerned, it might be better to keep a hold on the Christian nurse, because the alternative is a far greater threat to liberal values. Trying to wish out of existence the fact that there are people like that, who have such desires, is a form of deluded utopianism which, as usual with such things, can have deeply counter-productive ends, the opposite of its undeniably progressive aims.

As I say, I endorse and agree with the criticisms of the Catholic hierarchy as dangerously backward and counter-productive where any kind of social progress is concerned; I simply want the same criticisms to be unashamedly aired against certain aspects of Islam (especially when they are really, as with Christian fundamentalism, politics rather than religion). If it is made clear that the criticism is born out of a defence of liberal values, rather than fear of "foreigners" and "outsiders", the right-wing press will want nothing to do with it, and might even rediscover the pre-Thatcher Arabist Toryism which makes far more sense than their current position. But until criticism of religious conservatives is equal and unambiguous - criticising them because they are religious conservatives, not for any other petty and culturally specific reason - I regret to say that I will suspect, albeit from a wholly different starting point, that there may be more truth in Peter Hitchens' suspicion - that extreme atheism is really a cultural cringe at the thought of one's childhood memories and pre-pop cultural inheritance, rather than a genuinely thought-out ideology - that I would like to believe there is. I am - on balance - an agnostic, rather than an atheist. It's the biggest difference in the world, and it doesn't make you a "Christian in denial" as both Hitchens brothers would probably think. It just makes you reasoned and tolerant.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Radio considered as a metaphor for a nation: part 32413

So Capital Radio - a London behemoth for 37 years - is coming to large swathes of the rest of the UK on FM. In reality, it's merely the logical conclusion of a process that's been under way for two decades. Like the post-war mixed economy model that created them, the original ILR stations - the ones that routinely interspersed "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" and "Blue Monday" with plugs for jumble sales - were, for all their positive attributes, uneasy hybrids constantly being pushed in two conflicting, irreconcilable directions. One of these decisively triumphed over the other with the Act of 20 years ago, and within half a decade most of what existed in the commercial sector was "local" only in the most theoretical sense, coming from interchangeable buildings in interchangeable towns and playing interchangeable music. The development of British commercial radio - instigated by Heath, stopped in its tracks for a while by Labour and the Annan Committee - was flawed and compromised on multiple levels, but it could not have been anything else because to get on the air at all, even 30 years ago, it was necessary to appeal to local elites, quasi-feudal fiefdoms whose power even as late as that now seems literally unbelievable. The quasi-nationalisation of commercial FM pop radio in Britain seems to sum up the final death of restricted, small-scale local semi-capitalism, the point when the last link (outside, perhaps, a few unrepresentative fringe areas, many outside England where the rules may still be different) between pop and the old structures it used to have to fit itself around is symbolically broken for good.

Inevitably, the very people who lament the coming of unbridled Top 40 commercial radio on FM, with no lingering ties to place and history, are very often the same people who yearned for precisely that kind of radio (the offshore stations were every bit as short-term capitalist and dismissive of all other interests as Global Radio is, the only difference was that the political consensus then didn't approve of such things) during their formative years, usually some point between Suez and the coming of the new capitalism, roughly 1956 to 1984. For all they moaned about the "communist" tactics of the Wilson government against the offshore stations, and lamented the poor reception of Radio Luxembourg, they'd have been secretly repulsed had the British state embraced and celebrated pop music, and given them multiple commercial networks plus a BBC equivalent. Had such a thing happened back then, most of these future Thatcher voters would have been exposed as establishmentarians in disguise, at least as right-wing as their parents, and that would never have done. The old restrictions were deceptively convenient for the boomers to the extent that they gave them a platform to define themselves as "rebellious" and "anti-establishment" far beyond their true status as such on the issues that really mattered.

As pop has become the establishment culture to which all seeking power must conform (Brown's real undoing; we're just too close to it to see it yet) the more intelligent and thoughtful of those raised between the collapse of British power and the advent of naked capitalism in the UK may well feel, as I do, disillusioned with pop as a direct result of the Blairite degradation of the political process. But they are outnumbered by those who merely wish for the old restrictions to be continued as a means of covering their tracks - anything to avoid facing how right-wing and kneejerk they actually are, anything to avoid dealing with the fact that they are the masters now. Most of the rest of Europe has had national commercial FM pop radio for years, and in many ways it makes sense for Britain to follow, and use digital methods to fill the gaps; the only reason it hasn't had this sort of radio until now is deep-rooted official inertia (the continental equivalents of Radios 3 and 4 manage to take up far less of the spectrum than their BBC counterparts) and the fact that the decision-makers when the national commercial licences were given out in the pre-Blair early '90s were still of a wholly different generation. But the further institutionalisation of Britain as a deregulated quasi-American economy - everything the ILR anoraks wished for when they were young - unsettles that generation on multiple levels; quite apart from finally exposing them as the self-serving right-wingers they've been for practically half a century, it makes bad pop sound, for the first time, exactly as bad as it is. For every "Good Vibrations" or "Strawberry Fields Forever" the offshore stations played vast quantities of boring banality which, in itself, was and is no better and no worse than most of what the new Capital will play. It's just that the old romanticism of scarcity made bad pop sound good. Now it has to stand up for and of itself, and within the orthodoxies of Anglo-American capitalism it isn't pretty. Now, more than ever, we have to look elsewhere.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

John Major and the law of unintended consequences

We all know the horrible tawdriness of the Mandelson and especially Blair memoirs. We all know, unless we are actually Blairites ourselves, that the loss of faith in pop music and pop culture feels like the loss of faith in God after the First World War must have done, and every bit as emotionally painful even as we know it is the only possible way. We may not know that John Major's "long shadows on county grounds" speech of April 1993 was the most important British political speech of the 1990s and the starting point for the Cameronite taunting of Brown. But it was arguably the former and definitely the latter, because without it the Blairites would never have had an instantly-understood basis for their reduction of politics to playground taunts about their opponents' cultural backgrounds rather than actual policy and ideology - the very tactic that was eventually used so cynically against Labour (which is why I can never take seriously Blairite complaints against it).

The actual context of the speech, as with most universally-recognised soundbites, has long since been forgotten if it was ever really known by most: its intention was to convince the Europhobes who Major famously called "bastards" that the traditions they claimed to love would not be threatened by further integration into the EU. That both Major and his supposed enemies completely ignored the much greater role of American influence in eroding that world need not be gone into again. But for the first year after it was made, I don't remember it being quite as famous and widely quoted as it became later, because there was no need for it to be - Labour policy under John Smith was sufficiently different from Tory policy, and the party significantly serious in its approach, that there was enough genuine ideological contrast and division between the two parties for Labour not to need to resort to ill-thought-out trivialities.

It was only once Blair had taken over, and dropped most of the policies that seriously distinguished Labour from the Tories, that the speech became a legend which almost overnight replaced proper politics in this country. The Blairites had to mock Major on those criteria alone, and for his not knowing about Oasis and the Spice Girls, and for his being old and grey, because they had ceased to be a genuine alternative to the Tories in any meaningful way. When Major desperately dribbled in 1996 that "our pop culture rules the world" (a blatant post-imperial lie of course: at the core of the EU at that time, the Backstreet Boys were bigger than Oasis) they thought they had achieved their greatest possible victory. To hear Major, impotent and destroyed, gibbering words like that was far more important than hearing him admit that Thatcherite ideas on the economy and society had been wrong - they would have been actively repulsed had he ever conceded that (as a social traditionalist such as he claimed to be should have), because in some ways the Blairites were more Thatcherite than Major; certainly the last thing they'd have wanted was to see any Tory admit that the mass privatisation of the mind had been a mistake, because that would have killed the whole Blairite myth before it even started.

Without that 1993 speech, the Blairites might well have found something else to put in place of serious politics and ideological differences between parties, but it would surely have been much harder, and had they failed to find such an easy stick to beat Major with, might they not have dropped most policies that were even social democratic, let alone socialist? We will, alas, never know. But as these profound and dangerous things happened, they were cynically hidden behind the facade of Knebworth, itself a perfect setting for the collapse of serious left-wing thought, being a once-crumbling old pile whose aristocratic owners had saved themselves from penury in the '70s via Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Genesis. A generation was conned and lied to. A generation - mine - grew up thinking that taunting opponents for not knowing enough about celebrities was a substitute for real politics. Some of them - unforgivably - even thought there was something left-wing about it. And then a Tory clique - an Etonian-led one, at that - used exactly the same criteria to taunt a Labour prime minister, and Blair very clearly sees nothing wrong with it.

If my generation ever had a reckoning, it is now.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

That long

Today, the day I moved into this house is precisely as long ago - sixteen years minus twelve days - as Jim Callaghan's announcement that there would be no October 1978 election was on the day of our one-way journey from Waterloo.

I did not then know the full implications of what had happened at that time, but I already sensed a strange mirage shortly before I was born, a mysterious and unknowable lost universe of the recent past even without real knowledge of the deeper context. I knew it from daytime BBC2 reruns, bleak late nights of Radio 2 - the products of the very same quieter, unmarketised BBC which died forever the summer we moved, precisely halfway between then and now. "Forever Autumn" - a song I would hear in public in the summer of 2007, just as that very same scenario was being repeated in my own time, and would be torn apart by more than ever - to me brought on uncontrollable versions of a permanently changed landscape, hidden years I could not yet begin to understand. In the gaping rooms of the empty house we arrived in, they almost single-handedly kept me going, because I knew, albeit only at some vague, unconscious level, the changes had been further consolidated, taken to another, more total level, that very summer - Blair had come, Birt had successfully taken the precise opposite of the "Himalayan Option", Potter and Jarman had gone, Tarantino had beaten Kieslowski at Cannes. On several important levels, all remaining resistance within the official political and media structures of Britain to market fundamentalism had been wiped out in a matter of months, as had official belief in a European cultural consensus which is still wrongly considered a force in the present day and attacked as "imperialist" by some of the anti-Mail single-issue blogs (whose writers, admirable as their criticism of those odious newspapers is, are still often too culturally supportive of the real modern-day imperialists). I knew something of huge importance had happened, but I couldn't work out what it was yet - all I could do was retreat into another private world that seemed immensely remote, almost like my own private August 1914, which was far more similar to the moment I was living through than I could possibly have understood at the time.

Perhaps for those born shortly after 1994 the moment before they entered the world is already developing a similar exoticism which they cannot yet understand. Perhaps for those being born now, 2010 will eventually take on a similar mythic potency as the moment the changes begun at the end of the 1970s, and accelerated in several crucial fields in the mid-1990s, began their final phase, the moment the complete, final obliteration of any trace of the British public sphere (and perhaps of Britain itself, as a state) began.

We cannot yet know. But today's Pick of the Pops - on the very same Radio 2 which, in the summer of 1994, still played the Dam Busters March in the middle of a weekday - by sheer coincidence expressed and spoke of everything. Winton opining that he thought Foreigner's "Cold As Ice", an ugly, jarring opener, had been a bigger hit (of course: he has been brainwashed), Cerrone's putative quasi-master-race that nonetheless seems wholly sympathetic (and an unconsciously well-timed, on the 43rd anniversary of the moment when Wilson unwittingly begat boomer Thatcherism, mention of Kenny Everett), Voyage's unequivocal EUtopia (the full 15 minutes may be pop's pinnacle, full stop), Renaissance at the very height of the Long Mynd (and how much we should all wish "Follow You Follow Me" had been another "Northern Lights", a pop moment in isolation by a prog band none of whom ever charted again), "If The Kids Are United" (a deeply, profoundly counter-revolutionary song, which irreconcilably called for social unity yet wilfully threw off the legacy of 1945: there is no real difference between its particular refusal of Butskellism and the Thatcherite version, or between the social conservatism of the Sham Army belief that, say, Magazine weren't for "people like us" and the age-old lumpen proletariat that reading and learning weren't), "Dancing in the City" (whose best moment, I think now, is Kit Hain's slowed, ominous final "tonight", which wholly undermines the celebration - which, throughout the song, might as easily have turned into a wake - and strongly hints at storms coming), "Forever Autumn" more final than ever, "Substitute" wholly untainted by apartheid or ABBA copyism.

And, of course, Grease and "Three Times a Lady" to remind us of who and what actually won.

It's Sunday now. I haven't just lived here that long, but longer. Somehow, Cameron's final phase of destruction seems that much more omnipresent than it did on Friday. My own personal Rubicon has been crossed. This is what Peter Hammill meant the year I was born when he wrote "Fogwalking".

Auberon Waugh wrote in the Spectator of 2nd September 1978 that capitalism was dead in Britain.

That's why "From East to West" is greater than anything with Tony Blair's electric guitars on it. That's why I'm sitting here now. That's why white pop, now, is unsalvageable. But it's also why time will be my ultimate fascination until my own is over, and why I still want to believe that there is, somewhere, a parallel universe akin to the one the freed children dance into in the final scenes of Lost Hearts and Moondial, where Voyage are more revered than Dylan, more famous than GaGa.

Don't mind me. I'll leave the house again, some time soon. But this is my justification. This is the reason. This is why I didn't die. I'll keep going, through whatever is to come.

Sea Songs makes a brief transition into Mailwatch

In one breath, Peter Hitchens moans that Britain is now "a subject province of a continental empire".

In the next, he comments that while travelling recently in a European country, he was unable to change British currency into local money because it was "an exotic currency".

I rather suspect he is referring to Turkey here, but even by his / the Mail titles' standards, this is an astonishing level of self-contradiction. If Britain is ever again to have a proper, globally recognised currency, it has two choices. Sadly, I suspect Hitchens would rather see us dollarise. And then go on, in the same breath, about being forced to listen to pop music. Never has the stench of hypocrisy been uglier.

The sad thing is that the case for Europe can arguably be made more convincingly by cultural conservatives than by the likes of Polly "Capital Gold" Toynbee, just as the case for US statehood can be made more convincingly by pop-culture-fundamentalist "leftists" than by an unabashed fogey such as Hitchens Minor (not that he does make such a case, but he would surely see it as a lesser evil, in the exceedingly unlikely event that he ever accepts that the Britain he dreams of is geopolitically unworkable). A greater shame than ever that Auberon Waugh isn't around to make the European case, because he had the ear of people who believe, like Hitchens Minor, that J.S. Bach represents the peak of all musical achievement for all time, people who are not tied to the "rebellion" of 43 years ago as so much of the "left" still is. As it is, most "conservatives" and most "leftists" are both wedded to people who are not their natural allies (the latter, of course, can sometimes make excuses for both the worst excesses of American big business and the worst excesses of Islam: the fact that the Mail dislikes both - hypocritically in the latter case: the most natural non-Muslim sympathisers with the more extreme Islamic tendencies are social conservatives - does not mean the left should defend either). If and when either pathetic tribe returns, blinking, towards the light, I hope they will consult the likes of me, rather than either tribe's house journals, for advice on where to turn next. I may not do very well, but I have no doubt I could do better than any newspaper - of which, in terms of power to distort and lie and poison, there remain none deadlier than the Mail.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

So, that should be that

No doubt the Murdoch rags will suggest that England's potential equaliser was not given because of a full-scale Blatter/Platini conspiracy (and yes, I'm well aware of the chutzpah inherent in my calling anyone else a conspiracy theorist). There is no doubt some case for comparing it to the third goal 44 years ago, and suggesting that back then England still often got what it needed because of the residue of imperial power (the global spread of British pop culture in the '60s was much more the last gasp of the old empire, always crucially dependant on the new one, than the dawn of a new, post-imperial identity for Britain which much of the Left still dangerously believe it was) whereas now, after decades of misplaced grasping and opportunity-missing, it has to fight like any other country and, both because of its history and its latterday teaboy status in someone else's empire, is less likely to get it than most. But that is just carmodising: the truth is that England were not good enough. They might well not have beaten Ghana, for whom it really would have been "more than a match" much more than this one was to either side. And they're likely to be even worse under the sort of manager The Sun would want (with the sole exception of Roy Hodgson, the only English manager who has sufficient experience of the world game that he might be able to make his mediocre, celebified charges actually care about something they can't earn grotesque amounts of money from). That is the brutal truth. It must be faced. At least now the political consequences I feared will presumably not happen - and, with right-wing English nationalism held back, it might also be easier for Andy Murray. Hopefully even The Sun will not begrudge that.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Hell on earth

So, the USA's 90th-minute goal is the reason why England are playing Germany rather than Ghana.

Europeans being turned against each other - and specifically English people being turned against Germans - is what the powerful right-wing forces in the US dream of, as it quashes any kind of hope that the EU might be a great power in itself, no longer dependant on US backup.

The upsurge of English nationalism which would follow an England win - that may seem unlikely, but never underestimate the ability of English players to play above themselves against the country they have mostly been brought up to despise - might make it almost impossible for millions who know no other land to live in England, quite apart from the push it would undoubtedly give to Scottish separatism (already boosted by the election, of course) and the ethnic-nationalist-led chaos that would cause in England.

I would not rule out the possibility that the CIA fixed the USA game on the (as it turned out, correct) assumption that Germany would beat Ghana. Even if they didn't, I knew from the moment that goal went in that Germany would win. The USA couldn't prevent England playing Germany. It would have refuted everything they want the most.

The pre-history of ethnic cleansing in England might decisively begin today.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Message to HKM

Why should you be surprised about Mick Jagger doing a right-wing song in 1987? He did more to promote neoliberalism in Britain, and break down the post-war settlement, than even Keith Joseph.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Commercial radio says ...

... that 6Music has to be closed because it interferes with their business.

NME Radio, the most similar commercial station to 6Music (the FM commercial stations come from a completely different world), is to disappear from DAB and satellite television and will only be available online.

That went well, didn't it?

A cursory listen - mainly in taxis - to other FM commercial stations reveals that, once again, choice is a neoliberal fiction: a smaller station now thrust into competition with Heart is playing "Lost in Music" and "Fame", pure Heart fodder. Admittedly it only used to play all the 90s ILR standards, "Over My Shoulder" and "Sugar Coated Iceberg" and so on ad infinitum, and yes I know "Lost in Music" is a much better song than any of the Mondeo staples, but even so. I have no great enthusiasm for the daytime output of Radio 2, but to even begin to compare that fairly balanced and varied combination of old and new with its direct competitors is beyond grotesque. The BBC must be wary of Tory blandishments attempting to secure their supposed "heartland" with talk of public service - from Cameronite mouths whose owners don't understand the meaning of the phrase, that only means ghettoisation and marginalisation, and then oblivion.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Am I the only one ...

... who is thoroughly repulsed by the general atmosphere surrounding this World Cup? The grotesque Anglo-supremacy and centricity of the commentators ("everybody loves an underdog" when New Zealand scored in injury time against Slovakia - subtext: THEY ARE THE MASTERS YOU ARE THE MASTERS SLOVAKIA WILL JUST BE BLOODY COMMIES FOREVER - Tyldesley still going on about Ayresome Park and 1966 THREE FUCKING MINUTES after North Korea had scored), the universal hatred of the vuvuzelas as if every World Cup should be held in England, or at least have an atmosphere indistinguishable from the Reebok Stadium or somewhere - it's hideous, and the antithesis of everything the World Cup is supposed to be about. RTE must be better, surely?

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Pseudo-nationalism and the fake flag: a brief comment

Millions of people are no doubt deeply disappointed this evening. I am not among them. I never really believed that England would beat the USA anyway - right from the start, quite apart from thinking the draw was fixed to make The Sun and its readers look as absurd as possible, I sensed that the England players would feel too much of a cultural gratitude to the country they should be playing for to be able to play anywhere near as well against it as they did against, say, Croatia - but the spectacle of Sun readers pretending to be disappointed was, on one level, a mildly amusing joke. But only for about 30 seconds - it then becomes the sickest joke of all.

In no other country are the people who fly the flag most fervently those least entitled to display it. In England, as nowhere else in the world, the people who claim the flag as their own, and moan endlessly about "foreigners" and "spongers" and "our culture", are the ones who speak like foreigners, dress like foreigners, watch and listen to foreigners almost exclusively, and let foreigners tell them what to think and what to do and who to hate. They know nothing of the country they claim to support.

I spit on your flag. You don't deserve it. You deserve to be ruled from Washington in ten years. You don't deserve England, or any country. To paraphrase Lydon on "God Save the Queen", I don't spit on the Cross of St George because I hate England, I spit on it because I love it.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Never more frustrating

What makes the entrapment of the general election and all that surrounds it that much more frustrating than it used to be is that we have such an illusion of empowerment now - we think, with YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and the rest, that we're in power, that what we say matters. We convince ourselves that the old structures of power somehow don't matter. We turn the elections themselves into showbiz extravaganzas, complete with TV debates. And then we suddenly realise - with the deepest frustration in the world - that the greatest albatross that holds Britain, and especially England, back - the electoral system itself which renders the majority of votes cast pointless and wasted, and is the real reason why so many feel so alienated from the "democratic" process - is still there, still unaltered, still frustrating everything we do and say and think, still obstructing the will of the people as wholly as it did in 1951.

The first debate may well have boosted the Lib Dems' support. But it merely emphasises the inability of our electoral system to cope with the effects of such new additions - all it will do is create another 1983, another situation where the third party's popularity (which, back then, embraced virtually all Tory and Labour moderates, and now will embrace almost everyone who finds the big two as played-out and irrelevant as each other) is simply not reflected in the actual make-up of Parliament, and the Tories achieve a false victory far beyond their actual public support. We are all of us hitting an invisible wall outside the polling station. I shudder to think what will happen after 6th May. There are forces which cannot be held back much longer.

What would entirely new football grounds built circa 1960 or circa 1970 have looked like?

Despite the odd burst of invention - Chelsea's West Stand, built specifically to target the smart metropolitan bourgeoisie but fatally opened in 1974, precisely the time that class was decisively scared off football until the 1990s, and almost bringing the club down for good during the decade in between, springs irresistibly to mind - we all know that many British football grounds were largely frozen in time between an era of municipal/parochial (delete according to opinion) civic pride, in which football crowds were supposed to fit in an organic identity which was ultimately little more than an evolved feudalism transplanted to industrial Britain, and the era of mass psychological and cultural privatisation.

The fact that, during the long years in between, the old identities curdled away almost to nothing and simply could not cope with the new world coming - so could only reduce themselves to the racism and thuggery that put so many off football in the 1980s - has been repeated far too often to need going over again here. But what has been intriguing me recently is what would have happened had the development of football grounds not been largely held back, except in isolated, piecemeal fashion here and there, for so long. It's easy to imagine a generation of stadia built circa 1960 with a certain sort of "Macmillan Pride" design - that particular 1961 stand at (heartbreakingly) Hillsborough that Simon Inglis specifically compared to Yuri Gagarin's journey beyond springs to mind - but what particularly intrigues me is what might have happened later in the 1960s and into the early 1970s. Might a generation who are consensually and rather lazily mocked today as "autocratic socialists" have considered football an ideal platform for the mass education (cynics would loadedly - and, yes, that is a pun - say "re-education") of the working class, and designed uncompromisingly brutalist football grounds? How would fans have taken to them, and how would both the grounds themselves and their reputation have survived the decades to come? Would they have gone the way of the Tricorn or would at least some of them have come to be regarded as modernist classics, perhaps with one being listed and symbolically surviving a la Craven Cottage?

Their full implications would not have sat comfortably with the game's new masters. Sky are equally desperate and equally determined to hide all hints of both late Victorian and early 20th Century paternalistic provincialism and 60s/70s socialism, albeit for slightly different reasons. A large part of me wishes that Sky had had a brutalist legacy to live with, which might have been even harder to reconcile with neoliberalism than the Saltergates and Field Mills. I'd be interested in anyone else's views on this particular piece of alternative history, especially from those who really do know this territory.

In the middle of the most depressing ride for aeons

(though for reasons I could not have controlled, and I beat myself up for thinking I could)

Dale Winton was thrust in my face, playing "Maggie May" and "Get It On".

And I thought that a BBC which regards such things as more justifiable and more sustainable on public funds than 6Music and the Asian Network has lost something very, very important along the way

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Various forms of contact


The unspoken entrapment

Just before this lacerating statement of Everything That Needs To Be Said (but is being hidden on all sides - and check that "featured video" next to it; it's this they're really scared of, whereas the more fake gun talk comes from the underclass, the more the Cameronites love it and the more they can control) we are often treated to an Electoral Commission ad urging people to register to vote, and finding themselves trapped behind an invisible wall just outside the polling station because they haven't. In context the ironies are multiple; while we retain first-past-the-post the vast majority of votes cast make no meaningful difference to the actual outcome of the election. The media elite know this privately, but publicly wonder why so many people feel so disconnected and, literally, disenfranchised. Until we have proportional representation, divide-and-rule will be unstoppable, and Britain will continue to be democratic only in the most theoretical sense. And the role of the media elite and the white pop industry in this grand-scale fraud - convincing people that their society is somehow truly "democratic" because they can now hear a wider range of voices on Radio 4, or whatever criteria they use - is crucial.

"Everybody's Changing" soundtracks the Tory manifesto launch. SBTV is full of the sort of people - the original definition of lumpenproletariat - who many Tories would still refer to with a certain word Akala invokes. In this destructive exchange of different ways to be reactionary, Akala stands out as a voice who renders all other pop worse than irrelevant.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

A victory for civilisation

was served at Old Trafford tonight, and indeed last night at Camp Nou, and last month at Stamford Bridge, and last November in Lyon.

Let us have no more Murdochian whines which can be compared directly to Der Stuermer wondering why Jews didn't like it, and let us instead see Manchester United in their natural home as the perpetual, unelected club champions of CONCACAF.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Allegiances of convenience, and other pre-election thoughts

Some might wonder what I've been doing with myself for the last month. I myself wonder the same. But one thing I can say without hesitation is that, half a decade ago, taking up horse riding saved my life, and even though I can get nervous and frightened in certain places and times (if I didn't, I wouldn't understand what horses, even wonderfully calm Welsh cobs, are capable of) it is still convincing me that there is, indeed, something to live for. But that does not mean I have much in common with many of the people at the stables, some of whom exemplify the original, long-abused meaning of the term "lumpenproletariat" - blaming those who have no institutional or structural power for damage done by a ruling class to which they themselves kowtow, in the half-hateful, half-envious sense brought on by a 1960s secondary modern education - and talk and think on a level wholly different from mine, as if we were talking and thinking in entirely different languages (which, in many ways, we are). This is not snobbery or looking down - and indeed these are people with whom, on a different level, I have got on very well indeed - but this is still the honest truth that I am only now discovering.

Let me make a difficult confession. Quite often, the people I find it hardest to relate to are people like me - social outsiders, people whose lives really were changed by riding, people who have an affinity to music (of whichever kind) based around passion and social identification, rather than simply a background sound. I treated such a person very badly, even though I knew underneath that I was merely doing to him what I hate others for doing to me - although I don't think my attitude was in any way the reason (he had a deeper crisis of confidence caused by a fall, and probably by other family problems) he doesn't ride with us these days (he always seems to turn up when we've already gone, as if to dodge the whole idea) and now I wish he wasn't so nervous, if only because his deep-rooted problems and social isolation are probably much worse and more deeply embedded than mine. His first love is classical music, and I can feel an identification with him, an allegiance of convenience, which would have been quite inconceivable for someone steeped in hip-hop in its earlier years, but now seems the most natural thing in the world - somehow, the fact that this is possible seems like the greatest sign of just how different the culture now is, post-Blair. European classical music is now, I think, less the "establishment" music in the UK than it has been at any time at least in the broadcasting era, and has become, in its own quiet and unobtrusive way, something every bit as opposed to the Blair/Cameron order - which is all about taking a certain form of white Anglophone pop as the music of its own imperial master race, and legitimising suppression and marginalisation of anything else - as any form of black pop.

More than ever I think back to the Royal Festival Hall on 9th May 1992, the most traumatic day of my then-young life, the day I learnt class awareness and developed a deep sense of anger at unaccountable, unearned privilege, and gulp at how different the socio-cultural landscape was then, one month after the last pre-pop, unmarketed, unplanned election. Although there had obviously been significant changes already - the pro-market tendency had won a decisive victory in the Tory party, and Labour had become more accepting of the market economy in the previous few crucial years, it is amazing how similar the situation was 25 years after the Marine Offences Act - elements in Labour jumping aboard pop-cultural bandwagons when it suited them but less comfortable with the economic process which spreads them, the Tories at ease with the economic process but much less comfortable with its actual aftereffects - actually was to the paradoxical dichotomy of the biggest mistake of the Butskellite era / moment that exposed the incompatibility of the post-war settlement and pop culture (I'm not even sure which to delete as applicable). It had been enhanced and blown up several times, obviously, but a quarter of a century later there was still no political movement which was at ease both with American pop culture itself and with the methods that spread it here - there were egalitarians who weren't at ease with the market and marketeers who weren't at ease with pop, but no halfway house - so traces of the linear divisions of the early pop years were still there, and it would have been quite inconceivable for someone with my tastes to feel an identification with someone who was mocked for high-cultural leanings. The old idea that pop culture was a genuine break from the British imperial culture of Anglo-supremacy, rather than a mere glossing up and continuation of that culture by other means, was still just about believable, and was articulated even by Dennis Potter - at the end of his life the most articulate and passionate critic of Murdoch and all who sailed with him that we are ever likely to see - in the last series he had produced in his lifetime (I suspect very strongly that, had he seen the last 15 years, he would agree with me on what white pop has become, but then he would also hopefully have been the critic Blair deserved to expose him for what he was, but disastrously never really had).

Within a few years, of course, things were very different - the Blair movement was the first in British politics to be equally at ease with the practice and the theory, with American pop culture itself and with the barely-regulated market it needs to become absolute and total (rather than the enticing romantic myth it was for Potter's generation), and the Cameron movement is the same in reverse, the first Tory movement to be as at ease with the practical cultural outcome of the market as with the bare theory of neoliberalism (would a 20-year-old now, even if they got the reference, even understand the point of the early 90s Private Eye joke about John Major going to see Chelsea play Turandot "who are, I believe, an Italian team"? Yes, I know the words "even if they got the reference", "the point of the early 90s" and all words from "joke" onwards in that sentence are rather superfluous, but what was being ridiculed was Major's jumping aboard the football bandwagon when it became acceptable to the bourgeoisie again after the 1990 World Cup and his simultaneous apparent loyalty to a certain set of high-cultural tenets because that was what Tory leaders did, despite knowing little about either, and today it seems simultaneously impossible that football ever wasn't taken for granted, completely absorbed into the official culture industry and the instant fix of the political game, and that Tory leaders ever felt such obligations - indeed, it's a joke that belongs to a very specific moment when mass-cultural aspirations and high-cultural obligations briefly overlapped, and manages to work as a pisstake of early 90s football nouveaus even though it was probably written by people who themselves wouldn't have known the names of the top Italian teams). It is this context - the one where Altern 8 and Prokofiev seem to fit perfectly together, push the same emotional buttons (two cultures, and their wildly opposed but somehow related senses of ownership and anticipation which lay distinctly outside the Blairite/Cameronite norms, which have both been destroyed by the culture that made Florence Welch what she is today) in ten-second YouTube ad bursts from my final months of proper childhood - which enables me to feel deeply sympathetic towards the man I once felt infuriated by having to ride with (because we were too similar for each other's own good, his infatuations - in lieu of any proper social relationships - for the form disavowed by Cameronites because it reminds them of their own class's non-consumerist past, mine - filling the same void - for the form disavowed by Cameronites because it reminds them of the part of society they are as determined as their class ever was to sweep under the carpet, marginalise, humiliate, and freeze out of the only country they've ever known) when he is mocked by implication, when composers' entire work is derided as "crap" (it does still seem like an outmoded strawman in most of the contexts where I work and think, but really, to think as recently as 1996 I thought saying that would cause Whitehall to crumble to its foundations!).

I couldn't have joined in the discussion, because it only works on the level of crude schoolyard language (had I said anything I would inevitably have been mocked and ridiculed as an old-fashioned snob, and because that is the only thing I am even less than I am an inverted snob, I simply had to concede that I come from an entirely different world from these people) but I know that this gets right to his skin, just as it would with me if it were hip-hop being abused - those for whom pop is just a Steve Wright soundtrack, a backdrop to a life of desperately low horizons and blaming those who have no power for the baleful influence of those who do, cannot understand this sort of emotional connection. And I also know that, in many, probably most cases, it's the same people who mock classical music, anything folk-related at all, art-rock, and all black pop except Motown (with its attendant ironies of the subjectivity of rhetoric about "foreigners" and Britain "standing alone", and the double standards on which this sort of language is always, always based) - there's always some sort of reason, whether it is associations with "toffs", "gypsies", "grammar school boys" or "chavs". For far too much of the population of England, especially its poorer residents outside the major cities - dressing themselves in St George's flags while taking their entire culture from a foreign power, endlessly bashing those, including the peoples of the other parts of the UK, who do have something of their own because they cannot admit how desperately unsure of themselves they are - anything outside their own experience is an ill-defined enemy. It is not a thought-out BNP strategy, just a casual, culturally embedded fear - strengthened, not weakened, by the market economy, the allegiance with some vaguely-defined idea of "global trade" rather than the rest of Europe, and the general cultural void in England, all of which so much of the post-Blairite faux-left still see as allies of convenience - which provides the NuTories, UKIP and the BNP with all the excuse they need.

In its own way, this post is an elegy for the (last? I still think it will be) UK general election before it even happens, because it will be people like that who - as ever - decide the fate of the rest of us. And, if my recent experiences are anything to go by, it will not be a pretty fate. The lumpenproletariat love to present themselves as free from aristocratic rule, but at some deep level they really do still feel that the repackaged quasi-aristocracy are their "rightful rulers". And all that Chris Martin has ever been is a squire in pop star's clothing, a continuation of the feudal structure disguised as a touchy-feely empowerer. Pop made Cameron; if Cameron ever does anything good at all it might, just, be to unmake pop and its sustaining myth for good. And this is the sense where the allegiance of convenience I have with the man who is too similar to me for comfort differs from the Western allies' partnership with the Soviet Union during the Second World War, the historical model of all allegiances of convenience. That was a connection of spiritual enemies which everyone knew would be abandoned overnight as soon as Hitler was defeated and the old Western European powers humiliated (even the one which had theoretically won, a fact that itself is at the root of much of the cultural insecurity which leads to the hatred of "outsiders" - these are people who in many cases grew up in a place and time which consoled itself by dreaming of an illusory pseudo-victory, and accordingly passed off the culture of the true victors as its own and hoped that would keep the proles happy and in their place). This, on the other hand, is a connection which will probably become even stronger - it will most likely have to. If those who are not part of the reheated imperialism of the Cameron axis do not unite, however different our actual allegiances may be, we will all lose, perhaps everything. How depressing that I am writing these words shortly before an epochal election of, quite possibly, Union-breaking importance in a quite different and even more total sense from that of 1979, with no real sense that they will, or can, make any difference to anyone.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Michael Foot

has died at the age of 96.

The harsh truth is that the circumstances where he became Labour leader should never have come about: the ideal scenario, as I have said so often, would have been for Heath to win in February 1974 (which he was several different whiskers away from doing), Tory moderation to be vindicated and neoliberalism within the party held back, and Labour to reform but crucially without going neoliberal, ready to govern the country in the 1980s, perhaps with Shirley Williams becoming the first female PM in about 1979. Among many other things, this would most likely have prevented Murdoch from rising to his current dominance, because he built his empire largely on working-class readers in the second half of the '70s shifting from the Daily Mirror to The Sun because they felt alienated and no longer really represented by the unions, and had the unions not been given the chance to take the piss, many fewer people would have felt the Mirror no longer spoke for them.

Foot made the best of the worst possible situation - it has often been said that he was imposed on a disintegrating party partially by centrists who wanted an excuse to form the SDP, wilfully unaware that the first-past-the-post system made such a breakaway effectively unworkable. It is a great tragedy of British history that Labour was so divided at a pre-Falklands moment when it was enjoying massive public support - in contrast to Thatcher's early unpopularity - and could still have fundamentally reset the national agenda, had it been united. I would not have wished his situation - leading Labour just at the time when his strengths (intellectual debate and public meetings) had decisively declined in importance, and the crude tabloidisation of the British political sphere was really beginning to change everything - on my worst enemy.

For all the faults of time and chance which led to 1983, he was a great man on every possible level. It is one of those rare deaths, like that of Robin Davies, that - however many times you'd imagined it - leaves you feeling more spiritually alone, isolated and bereft than you'd ever thought possible. If I feel separated from something I know so well I find it hard to believe I never really experienced it, I cannot begin to imagine how those who lived through the battles where he was constantly so prominent are feeling. Many may feel a sense of victory, but at least as many will, I think, feel that bit more alone than they did a week ago. Sometimes, the passing of time affects us most when its effects have been held back the longest.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Beware the ides of March

(Revised January 2012 to add links to two YouTube uploads of Living for Kicks in full: one is here; the other is here)

50 years ago tonight - the same spring Blue Streak was cancelled and the Times gave up the imperial ghost, while Lonnie retrenched to the old CockErNee world having already created a new one, Cliff opined the new suburban pseudo-perfection and Max sang "I've got words for Elvis P" knowing that they would remain forever unheard - Britain's post-imperial humiliation was manifested on ITV, its single biggest platform at that moment, on two fronts. Barcelona's utter humiliation of Wolves, in the very same Molineux mud where only half a decade before they had been proclaimed the de facto world champion club side, exposed the old ways of English football for the antiquated facade they had become, and after a brief break for the news (really not a break at all, then) Daniel Farson's Living for Kicks exposed - with an almost unique sympathy for mainstream media at the time - the frustration and alienation of the first generation of clearly-definable teenagers, caught in a decrepit political state where exhaustion was everywhere in denial.

25 years ago this week, the old working class as a definable political or social force - and the whole idea of a Britain where everyone was somehow working towards shared ends within the public sphere - finally died as the miners succumbed, and "Material Girl" hit the Top 5 as the first song after Newsbeat (Bob Stanley carmodised that only 5 years later, by the way).

It may be that the historians of a quarter- or half-century from now will look back on early March 2010 with the same ominous sense of a turning point - the beginning of the end of the public sphere in British broadcasting, the moment the BBC lost what remained of its nerve out of sheer fear of a government that hadn't even been elected yet - and backed out of its universal role, finally allowed the pseudo-choice and pseudo-freedom of market brutalism to dictate everything. Maybe I am being too bleak in my assessment. But on a night when BBC Four - BBC Four, for heaven's sake - showed programmes about animals in TV and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo - it is hard to resist the temptation that the BBC almost has a death wish, has lost its nerve, has lost all confidence to speak up for itself and what it ought to be out of sheer paranoia that it may be completely dismantled if it shouts too loud. Maybe Birt should have taken the "Himalayan Option" after all. We may not have had So Solid mixed in with Britney or whatever, but at least we wouldn't have risked losing everything once the Tories regrouped. Maybe we might see a return to "purer" public service principles. But I fear we won't, because 6Music and the Asian Network - unlike the suspiciously untouched BBC3, Cash in the Attic or Holby City - represent the epitome, duly updated and redefined, of what public service broadcasting should be about. They could never be provided by the market and are exactly what needs to be retained. While there may well be a case for spending less on US imports (but, I would venture, more on European ones) and less on sports rights (some events certainly should always be on free TV, but it would be wrong to alienate non-sports-loving licence payers any more than at present) there is no case at all for removing services like these. There is an ugly set of reactions being played to here - a desire to further increase NuTory control of British pop (and who can seriously dispute that 1Xtra would be the next target?), to further atomise the British population so as to strengthen elite power in the guise of FAKE "democratisation", to decisively separate Britain from its European neighbours and effectively complete pseudo-American "restructuring", and to isolate and silence all non-white voices and influences, to create by stealth the pure white state many Tories still secretly dream of.

As the reliably excellent Andy Beckett states in the Guardian, it was only Birt's reforms - which fatally compromised the old independent public service spirit, and may only have postponed the evil day - which managed to save the BBC last time. There are many in the Tory party who still feel let down by his skilful politicking of 16 years ago, who wish he hadn't come up with sufficient internal marketisation and a shift in priorities towards global sales and formatting to convince their leaders that a PBS/NPR ghetto wasn't the only way, and they are if anything more dominant in the party than they were then, as the old guard who felt a psychological tie to Reithian values have almost all retired and are now dying off. There is a determination, as there was with Bush over Iraq, to complete unfinished business.

The relevance of what happened 25 years ago should be obvious. But I think a look back at Living for Kicks is just as telling, because those teenagers - probably now mostly dreading a further fall in what is already Europe's lowest state pension - were dreaming of some kind of escape from the post-war state, some kind of shift towards the privatisation of the mind which for them wrongly equated with freedom. That was the "element of sadness, a wistful hankering after better things" that Farson mentioned at the programme's end. Seeing how the majority were probably only ever after the main chance and their own interests - obviously there were left-wing idealists, and one such speaks at length in Living for Kicks, but that was in Brighton, an unusual, bohemian-London-like place even back then, and even there they didn't seem like the majority - it is safe to say that they eventually got their way. But I know many of them regret it, and the way it has left their descendants in many important ways less genuinely free - in the senses that truly matter, not how much you can watch on YouTube or how much you can say on Twitter - than ever. They were indeed trapped in many ways, but the escape route they chose was fatally immune to exploitation by economic forces who pretend to care for everyone but in fact care for no-one. I will mention without comment that one of the newspaper front pages that appears in Living for Kicks is from the Daily Herald.

Meanwhile, all I can recommend is a well-worded and thoughtful (hysteria will simply strengthen our enemies) email to, or similarly expressing your views here. We may never get another chance to say it.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

The only song that deserved to be number one this week ...

... is number 60.

Meanwhile, someone from Kington in Herefordshire is number 4. Quite wrong. And Dizzee remains a NuTory Uncle Tom at number 2.

I think the number 69 album makes it clear that some people need to get over the mid-90s. Mind you, the number 29 album (Gracie Fields, would you believe!) makes it clear precisely how few people would have bought the Dancing Monkeys of Maine Road, and how few people are buying albums at all these days - and how old most of them are. And as far as ancient NW England pop-cultural artefacts that convinced certain people that they could be something are concerned, I'd much rather hear the inter-war version. At least that didn't cripple my generation.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Morley's still got it, sometimes

"For whatever the establishment now is, the idea of a black British star transmitting an embittered, alienated slang that graphically illustrates urban blight, that draws unnerving attention to a tense, endlessly fracturing racial divide, is deeply unwelcome. Giggs having a voice is a threat."

I would say that the new elite is more concerned to keep such voices out of pop than the old one was, because whereas the old elite largely left pop alone, the new one is actively involved in pop, and needs such voices to be silenced because it knows that if pop's new tyranny of privilege is broken, its own self-image will be exposed as the lie and sham it is. Giggs is in some ways more threatened by the NuTories than anyone - even Linton Kwesi Johnson - was by the old ones 30 years ago, because the elite involvement in pop is now so much greater.

And, right on cue, this happens. "Don't Go There" is the only song that deserves to be number one on Sunday. It won't be, of course, but if it was it would be the most subversive number one for 29 years. The final count of the collision between us and the damned is coming now, you can feel it.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Robin Davies

It was the last pre-Murdoch summer, just before the consensus began to crumble, just before the new aggressive individualism began to emerge from both left and right. And for one summer one boy in an England that probably never really existed - but the best time in your life to dream is before you know the deeper truths, and I'm glad I had the chance - had the time of his life, the most evanescent and thus most piquant of universes made possible by a visitor from nine centuries before, the sort of life that was, by obvious definition, never truly possible, but if you can never believe that it is at some early point in your life you never really live.

And at the summer's end, just as the longest - and nearest to home - engagement in the history of the British Army set in, he walked down to the lake and stood, silent, as his muse disappeared, unconsciously sensing his own childlike faith in childhood's end. The following spring, concurrent with "I Want You Back" and what, for most of us today, is the beginning of time, we saw it all happen, and it has never left us, even as it has come to seem as unfamiliar, as far beyond the modern rules and assumptions, as the England of the 11th Century must have seemed to Butskellite children.

Who would ever have imagined that Bayldon would outlive him?

We're out on our own now, more than ever.

You may like to know

that the woman you saw last week on the Brits with Dizzee - a collaboration you would have put at number one were it not for elite pseudo-guilt and pseudo-care - sang the song of Yum-Yum from The Mikado by Gilbert & Sullivan at the memorial service for her grandfather, the former Daily Telegraph journalist Colin Welch, two weeks after the 1997 election, also attended by the likes of Charles Moore, Paul Johnson, Frank Johnson, Daniel Johnson, William Rees-Mogg, Philip Howard, Peregrine Worsthorne, Tom Utley, Peter Tapsell and Peter Hitchens, all of whom - odious as they mostly are - represent a far more peripheral threat to the public sphere than the NuTory clique which includes a considerable part of the British pop industry, and can be characterised by the worst and most culturally heinous accent in the history of British English, which does not even have the minor saving grace of being rich and fruity on an indulgently enjoyable level.

The me of 2003 would probably have welcomed with naive joy the day when such a thing could happen, when the man who represented my own coming cultural revolution could mix, without any apparent irony or public comment, with such a woman on the biggest pop stage of the year. But that was before I knew how capitalism actually works, and before I knew how deep-rooted inequality still is, before I knew that this sort of "coming-together" is worse than a sham, is a dangerous counter-revolutionary diversion planned to convince the ITV1 audience that All Are Equal Now, that Cameron loves you all and knows precisely how you live just because he used to work for us, that pop can Unite The World, can single-handedly eliminate the massive institutionalised divisions and structural unfairness of British society. I would have longed for such a day. I was wrong. It has come and the Right are cawing with greater satisfaction than ever. It means less than fuck all, worse than fuck all. It's an indictment of pop as safety valve, as subtle means of papering over every crack in the Cameron doctrine.

I still think Dizzee has a far greater talent than most who are allowed to get where he is - but he really ought to use the platform he has far more politically, to find some way out of his own contradictions. He has dramatised Britain's culture wars with vicious accuracy in his videos - that for "Sirens" makes clear precisely who would freeze him out of his own country, however much they may now dress themselves up in that other Machine (and isn't that the aptest band name ever? Pretty much an admission that this is a reassertion of elite control by other means) but the harsh truth is that, when he takes that ITV1 stage, he is little more than a dancing monkey for those very forces. At the very least, KLF 1992 tactics were necessary. But back then both major parties were led by serious politicians, and pop could still do such things. Now Dizzee is what I always hoped he could be, and it's the only thing worse than nothing.

Calm Before the Storm or The Camera Loves Me. At least nobody could ever pretend that those two could ever co-exist. At least both are, in their own wholly opposed ways, resolutely anti-Cameron. At such a time that feels like the only thing that matters at all.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Susan Sontag said

that the harshest recognition the Left ever had to face was the very real possibility that someone who had only read Reader's Digest between 1950 and 1970 might have known more about Communist states, and how they mostly actually worked in practice if not in theory, than someone who'd read The Nation and the New Statesman.

I think the harshest recognition those of us who had our lives changed by pop will ever have to face might be the remarkably similar possibility that someone who only read either The Daily Telegraph (and therefore was told, however many lies against the post-war settlement doing the same thing - summed up in one of my old sparring partners' sly comment about the old municipal establishment, as represented in 1960s football club chairmen, thinking Communism and the Rolling Stones were somehow on the same side - this was interspersed with, that popular culture would eat away at the very ideas of learning and knowledge), or especially the Daily Worker and after 1966 the Morning Star (and therefore was told that rock music could only ever be bourgeois and counter-revolutionary, and would eat away at the very ideas of collective socialist endeavour), between about 1960 and about 1990, might have known more about pop, and how it mostly actually works in practice if not (at least back then) in theory, than someone who read NME or Melody Maker.

I think if the coming years teach us anything it will be this profound truth. But by then it will be too late.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Amazon skewed logic in action

Because I bought series three of Monty Python's Flying Circus, thinks I might like Punch the Clock by Elvis Costello (fine, if I'm right in thinking "Pills and Soap" is on that) and, eek, The 1954 British Hit Parade Volume 3. Would anyone in the world, ever, of any description, actually want to hear both those albums?

Because I own Mummer by XTC, it thinks I want to hear the Grateful Dead.

Because I own several Jennings books, it recommends Animals by Pink Floyd. I actually already like that album a lot - for me it's far and away their most-satisfying "post-weird" work - but why the equation? It's not as if "Another Brick in the Wall" and "The Happiest Days of Our Lives" (songs far more evocative of the mid-century prep school experience than Buckeridge's semi-socialist fantasy) are even on that album - I can only assume it's because of the probable truth that a great many people who ended up liking Floyd had begun their lives in the world Buckeridge painted as far rosier than it actually was.

At least Animals is a decent album. The same cannot be said for the multiple generations of shite it recommends if you bought the complete series of The Adventures of Black Beauty, from Love Thy Neighbour to Hannah Montana - someone needs to tell Amazon that it isn't just cholerically nostalgic 50-year-olds and horsey little girls (only now in a mid-Atlantic-type-way) who can recognise a great series when they see it. Or indeed that it isn't only horsey little girls who ride, or would if the weather that kept them out of London the one weekend they really, really needed to be there allowed them to.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

I'd never have watched or listened to him - but I'm still worried

I never bothered with Jonathan Ross, either on radio or television. I always found his shows tediously smug and self-centred, musically either actively bad or just plain irrelevant. But I am still nervous about the implications of his departure, because it represents a victory for a section of British society which simply does not understand the concept of mutual tolerance, which alone has kept the BBC going since Reithianism became untenable. Dacre's mob genuinely appear to resent any of their money going to anything they do not personally like, a frightening level of intolerance which I don't think is shared, on the whole, by those on the other side (of course you get posts on certain forums opining that Radio 3 should be axed, but I don't think it runs to anything like the same extent). Quite apart from the fact that the people who think "their" newspapers want to save at least a high-cultural, hierarchical idea of the BBC simply don't understand that those papers are in fact owned by market fundamentalists who, if they had their way, would end all funding of the sort of broadcasting they pretend to care about. And they, riddled as ever with lies and contradictions, have just achieved a major victory, which will render them far more confident to destroy at some future point - or at least fatally marginalise - those who genuinely are culturally and politically subversive.

Jonathan Ross was not even remotely comparable to anyone on 1Xtra - his shows, unlike those on that station, were full of the new elite and its footsoldiers. But that does not mean that those involved with 1Xtra should not be frightened.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The new establishment defined beyond perfection

every last detail is perfectly programmed - in order: the albums which set the tone for Blair and Cameron respectively, the Blair generation's adolescent grasp at artiness and androgyny, the Blair generation's definitive regular-rock experience, the Blair generation's grasp at shire escape and worn-out post-hippie retreat (check that last episode of All You Need Is Love: the Marches the perfect setting for Oldfield's removal from the turmoil of the day because they had been shielded from both collectivism/socialism and individualism/pop culture, so the great battles of the mid/late 70s could just about be forgotten), what the Cameron generation desperately want us to believe they were listening to in their teens, what the Blair generation were actually listening to as they planned their Project (certainly several teachers at the school whose fringes I moved on in the mid-90s were), what Guido Fawkes might just have been listening to in 1991 but the Cameronites would never have touched (but want to jump on to save the Union, because avoiding geopolitical chaos is more important for them than strengthening their own majorities), every bourgeois liberal's idea of radical chic at the beginning of the neoliberal era, and every bourgeois liberal's idea - future Blairites the lot of them - of radical chic a decade earlier, as Murdoch wormed his way in and the seeds of neoliberalism were sown by the vicious fallout from the 60s, the seeds of rock music itself.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

1960 to 2010: or one entrapment to another

1960 - village teashops
2010 - McDonald's

1960 - Eric Coates
2010 - Elvis Presley

1960 - quasi-aristocratic small ads on the front page of the Times
2010 - Warren Beatty bullshit on the front page of the Guardian

1960 - steam-hauled branch lines; the worn-out appeals to wartime "community"
2010 - the atomisation symbolised by the universal car

1960 - living on dreams of our own dying empire
2010 - living on dreams of someone else's

1960 - Old Etonians who were unknowingly economically strengthening pop but still came from an entirely separate and previous world
2010 - Old Etonians who are inherently bound up with pop, became what they are entirely off its back and to whom pop is no threat whatsoever, but rather the strongest possible institutional backup

1960 - control by a paternalistic local autocracy
2010 - control by an unaccountable global elite (we came close to true democracy in between, but it never really happened)

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The complete collapse of all journalistic integrity in broadcasting even before it's been officially approved part 34621

ITV News on Saturday night began with fast-cuts of David Cameron appearing to repeat the word "change".

And there are in this country people who think party political broadcasts no longer exist other than at election time.

I note also that the latest Presley wankfest - an ever more desperate reminder that, for our rulers, what were in fact the British state's greatest missed opportunities in the last 100 years were in fact great and wonderful things because their long-term legacy allowed our current rulers to shape and define themselves and the whole neoliberal agenda - is all over BBC Four, as well as everywhere else. I don't recall it being so five years ago this month, when amid terrible, unbearable desperation we at least had the best Dennis Potter season ever. Never forget: "choice" is a chimera. I know how much DVD has boomed and how much Blu-Ray will, but in many ways they merely give the elite the excuse for greater control of everybody else.

Just one other thing: I know downloads of individual tracks are the dominant force now, but the top two British acts on the first album chart published in 2010 are both Scottish (I've no love for either - Nutini is in many ways far more aesthetically offensive than Boyle - but still). The top three English acts all come from either private schools or the West Country, until the shakedown of the last decade just about the two most un-pop environments in England. I think that might give some idea over who will in all likelihood come out best from the decade to come. And, of course, who will come out worst.